Despite Increasing Viewership, a Massive Pay Gap Between the NBA and WNBA Still Exists

Aliyah Boston, after completing an illustrious college career at South Carolina that includes a championship win, will soon have her presence felt on the big stage.

Boston was selected No. 1 overall by the Indiana Fever last night during the 2023 WNBA Draft.

The 6-foot-5 baller is dominating headlines at a time when the attention on women’s basketball is increasing. She is also moving on to the next phase of her career at a time when a massive pay gap between the men’s and women’s game exists, and conversations surrounding pay equity within sports continuing.

According to Spotrac.com, the largest annual contract currently in the WNBA is held by Jackie Young, who earns $252,450 each year. Young’s contract is for two years, and she will be a free agent in 2025.

Following Young, according to Spotrac.com, is Arike Ogunbowale, who earns $241,984 annually. Ogunbowale’s deal is for three years, and she will be a free agent in 2026. After Ogunbowale is Diana Taurasi ($234,936) and Jewell Loyd ($231,515). Taurasi and Loyd will be free agents in 2025 and 2024, respectively.

As for the most money earned over the duration of their deal, Spotrac.com confirmed three players are earning $899,480 over four seasons: DeWanna Bonner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins-Smith.

By coming to the WNBA, and with the inception of name, image and likeness (NIL) deals, there’s a chance Boston has taken a pay cut by going pro.

As a rookie, the WNBA’s collective bargaining agreement states picks 1-4 can earn a salary of $74,305 in the first year. According to college sports database On3.com, Boston has an annual NIL value of $118,000. This valuation has her ranked No. 14 among women’s college basketball players.

Boston has a presence in footwear, having appeared in Under Armour’s recent reboot of its “Protect This House” campaign alongside NBA star Stephen Curry and WNBA champion Kelsey Plum.

Angel Reese of 2023 NCAA champion LSU is No. 1 on the On3.com list with an annual NIL value of $1.3 million, followed by Haley and Hanna Cavinder, who have valuations of $930,000 and $924,000, respectively. At No. 4 is Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, with a valuation of $830,000 annually.

As for NBA players, according to Spotrac.com, the current largest annual contract belongs to both Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns, who both earn roughly $56.1 million a year.

In terms of the most money earned over the duration of their deal, Spotrac.com confirmed Nikola Jokic holds the top spot, earning roughly $272 million over five years. After Jokic is Bradley Beal, who will earn approximately $251 million over five years.

Recently, the women’s game has experienced rapidly-increasing interest.

At the start of the month, ESPN announced viewership for the NCAA women’s basketball Final Four, which was based on from Nielsen’s Fast Nationals data. South Carolina’s matchup against Iowa, the network confirmed, was ESPN platforms’ most-viewed semifinal on record with 5.5 million viewers and a peak of 6.6 million. The LSU-Virginia Tech matchup, according to ESPN, brought in 3.4 million viewers with a peak of 5 million.

What’s more, ESPN confirmed these two matchups were the most viewed college basketball games ever on ESPN+, regardless of gender.

The WNBA ratings have increased as well. ESPN and ABC together, according to a statement, televised 49 games from the start of the season through the WNBA Finals. It was the most-viewed season since 2006, according to ESPN, averaging 412,000 viewers over the 49 games, which is a 22% increase over 2021.

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